No simple fees

There’s nothing like being a test case.

Nearly four months after required gym uniforms, overseas field trips and student-purchased portfolios landed the Chico Unified School District in hot water with the Butte County grand jury, the district is still scrambling to sort out just what it can and cannot collect in the way of fees or donations.

Other school districts are watching to see what happens here, because the same Education Code that applies in Chico applies throughout the state.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard of plenty of schools and classrooms that collect money much more liberally than those in the CUSD. From field trips to classroom snacks, it’s rare that parents don’t shell out extra cash for their child’s so-called “free” education. The CUSD isn’t unique in this regard.

The district has called in FCMAT, a consulting firm with expertise in this area, to lay down the law. Company representatives met this week with school principals, who eagerly soaked up the information. Their teachers are worried they’ll have to cancel special projects, trips and other enriching activities that are tied to outside dollars.

We commend the CUSD for calling in the experts on this complicated issue. But we hope the district doesn’t go too far to appease the grand jury, which has renewed its investigation. Mistakes need to be corrected, of course, but some legally allowed fees can mean the difference between a so-so and stellar educational experience.

As long as students aren’t excluded because they can’t afford to pay them, we believe the CUSD should keep the fees that pass muster.